Fight over boundaries threatens to put brakes on devolution drive

A TUG-OF-WAR legal battle over the place for an historic market town in the Government's long-awaited devolution plans for the region could scupper the timetable for a metro mayor.
Chesterfield landmark, the Church of St Mary And All Saints and Beyond.Chesterfield landmark, the Church of St Mary And All Saints and Beyond.
Chesterfield landmark, the Church of St Mary And All Saints and Beyond.

Derbyshire County Council is taking Sheffield City Region’s combined authority to court over Chesterfield wanting to break its county ties and join the £1bn South Yorkshire devolution deal.

The leader of Derbyshire County Council, Coun Anne Western, claimed the authority has been left with no choice as £1m in business rates would vanish from its coffers and put a Sheffield City Region Mayor in charge of transport and other key services.

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The leader of Barnsley Council and the chairman of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, Sir Steve Houghton, admitted plans to elect a metro mayor by 2017 could be put on hold.

He said: “Hopefully that will be sorted by the end of September but a lot depends on the courts. If the courts find in favour of Derby then the timetable will slip. If the courts do find in favour of (us) then we are on for next year.”

Coun Western claimed the recent public consultation on the proposals for Chesterfield to join Sheffield was “misleading and flawed” and the High Court will sit in September to decide whether the public needs to be asked their opinion again.

While North Yorkshire’s civic leaders have already come to terms with the fact that getting a mayor in place by 2017 now seems unlikely, the legal action will come as a major blow to Sheffield, which has been at the forefront of getting more control from Whitehall.

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Those that miss the 2017 deadline for metro mayor elections will have to wait until 2020.

Sir Steve said: “Derbyshire County Council is asking for the public consultation to be quashed because it doesn’t think Chesterfield reaches the full criteria to be a full member.

“If it manages to do that, we wouldn’t have a mayor in that year (2017).”

Despite the impending court case, the Labour politician believes devolution is still worth pursuing.

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He said: “It’s more complex than I anticipated because the city region in our case goes from Yorkshire to the Midlands and goes across the counties and across the districts. So it’s complex, but we shouldn’t let complexity get in the way of doing the right thing.

“So we have to get away from traditional boundaries and to recognise that to grow the economy, you need to make decisions about the economic footprint.”

Sheffield City Region is due to get £30m in spending power annually over the next 30 years after ex-Chancellor George Osborne announced the plan last October.

The consultation that went out to people asking them if they agreed to the plan and for Chesterfield to be part of it closed on Friday – costing taxpayers an estimated £350,000.

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Derbyshire County Council launched its own online poll asking whether people wanted Chesterfield to become a full member of Sheffield City Region with a Sheffield City Region Mayor. About 4,000 people voted and 92 per cent said no.

How many people live in South Yorkshire?

An estimated 1.3m residents.

How is political power currently arranged?

Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield are unitary authorities with their own councils – currently all held by Labour. In 2012, the Sheffield City Region local enterprise partnership was set up, tasked with overseeing economic generation and job creation and has Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales and North-East Derbyshire as additional members. In 2014, a combined authority was created with Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield as core members and the five others as associate members. This body is in charge of transport and economic prosperity and has one of the council leaders as chair. Chesterfield and Bassetlaw want to become full members.

What kind of economy does it have?

The Sheffield City Region’s economy has an output of more than £30bn per year and contains about 52,000 businesses. It specialises in advanced manufacturing, low carbon technologies, logistics, creative and digital industries.

What devolution deal is on the table for people in South Yorkshire?

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If you live in South Yorkshire then you are living within the area captured by the Sheffield City Region devolution deal. In theory, you should benefit from £30m of annual Government spending being transferred from Whitehall to the region each year, with cash going on local priorities. It is more complicated if you live in Chesterfield or Bassetlaw, as Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire county councils want to retain ultimate control over those areas, and are part of the separate N2D2 combined authority.